By Kristina Johnson, August 2019
In the bustling shopping district of The Lanes in Brighton, I met with Natasha Allden outside a little café to find out a bit more about her and MULTIPLY. As the new Head of Marketing, I was keen to explore the culture and approach of the company. Amidst the sun and the seagulls, our coffee and chat gave me a sense of enthusiasm that piqued my interest about the team and work ahead.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background?
I was born and bred in the UK, mostly in the South East, apart from one year working in New Zealand setting up youth programmes in Christchurch.
I was very lucky to have had access to some great schooling and experiences from walking the Atlas Mountains to riding in Argentina in my teens. I think this is what encouraged me to push boundaries and always be curious. However, it led me to my first job doing admin for a signage company then being promoted to account manager – heading six-figure programmes by the age of 19.
My first company was an online recruitment platform – I didn’t go out to set up a digital business, I went out to solve a problem I’d experienced in the temporary job market. I launched the company in 2008 just before the market crash and although the concept was well received I couldn’t see it through the downturn, I was 22 and it was one of the biggest lessons I had the privilege of learning – I encourage everyone to ‘fail’ at least once.
I only went to University in my early 30’s where I completed my MSc in Digital Marketing and produced my first academic paper and book. This is where I fell in love with network theories which are key to the lateral business approach we take at MULTIPLY. I then worked corporate side in FTSE 100 companies in financial services, energy and insurance.
Five years ago, I got a call from an old contact out of the blue asking, ‘do you want to come and play with rocket cars?’ Unsurprisingly I said yes and a few months later I joined Bloodhound, the British Land Speed Record team. That is where I started on my journey with MULTIPLY.
Why did you set up MULTIPLY?
I didn’t realise it at the time but MULTIPLY was a manifestation of decades of work. My focus has always been on creatively commercialising technologies, services, businesses – unleashing the potential not only within technology but also within people from my first business to cutting-edge digital propositions in corporates.
MULTIPLY brings the network theories I developed and studied to life by adopting a lateral approach to scaling businesses – new markets, applications, models, mechanisms all built around a highly connected and collaborative global network. The fact that we make money for businesses faster is a by-product of the bigger vision to revisit traditional business models (particularly in advanced engineering industries) and strive to not only transform the business but industries, societies and economies.
What do you believe makes MULTIPLY different to other traditional consultancies?
Whenever anyone mentioned consultant to me in the past – I immediately took a step back expecting high fees for someone to tell me what I knew through a glossy high-cost report. Which is why I never set-out to build a consultancy, I set out to build a company that works as partners with our clients. Not only doing creative strategy development but also taking our clients through to making the deal, delivering the programme and doing it successfully.
I am confident in MULTIPLY’s ability most importantly because of the team. The team are highly experienced individuals with broad industry and international track records. They are not with MULTIPLY because I hired them, they are with MULTIPLY because they were invited and chose to accept and are equally part of the shaping of the company. The other key differentiator is that MULTIPLY operates on a proprietary framework, that has been developed and deployed on numerous successful campaigns from rockets to ad-tech and more – we don’t only know we can do it, we do it.
What has been the most defining experience of your career so far?
There have been quite a few, there are three that I would consider key.
The first one would definitely be setting up my first business at 22 and learning to firstly take the leap and even more importantly taking the fall. The second is publishing my MSc as a paper and a book, showing that patience and determination pays off and developing a new theory into new ways of doing business (back to the network theories). Finally it was the decision to join Bloodhound, this was the most courageous step as this was when I had most to lose (namely a fast track career and stability with a FTSE100 company) – it threw me to every extreme imaginable, poverty, riches, one day working with government officials from a tent in the desert to building campaigns out of Number 10 and brokering deals on the edges of China. It taught me how to be an adventurer (at another level), boldness, creativity and self.
You have a strong set of values in MULTIPLY how much has this come from your own beliefs and experience?
Undoubtedly, they stem from me, however, they weren’t set down like a set of rules, it was something worked through with the team and I hope they continue to mature and evolve as the company and the team do.
What would you say is the most stand out value that you have?
They are all equally important and it is about creating a set of values that are greater than the sum of the parts. Boldness and curiosity come from the extreme experiences I’ve been through and give courage to the team to be so. Authenticity is key; if we are not ourselves, we will not be happy and life is too short to do that which doesn’t fulfill you or at least a part of you. This is back to empowering the team and ensuring MULTIPLY is greater than any one person. Respect, diversity and being lifted is a must at MULTIPLY, myopia is not tolerated having experienced discrimination in a number of environments I’ve been in.
I would like to call out diversity – when we speak of diversity at MULTIPLY we are not talking about colour, sex, religion, nationality – that is a non-issue, we don’t even look at that because we are looking at the people. What experiences has the person had, how do they think, what drives them – that is what I believe we should focus on to build a diverse team. I am the only UK born and bred member of the core team and I actively look for people who challenge me and bring different perspectives – that is what makes MULTIPLY truly creative.
What does an average day in the life of MULTIPLY’s CEO look like?
It varies from day-to-day, that’s what I love. Typically, I am based in Brighton, Oxford or London, and a day can range from meeting new space companies from across the UK, to writing proposals, brokering deals, connecting people and supporting the team.
On a more practical level I do try and instill a semblance of a routine as I am often on the road and away from home. This always starts with a cup of tea, Yorkshire tea to be precise (I am English after all)! A set of basic exercises for 5minutes so no matter what happens during the day I have done some physical activity and finally I always make my bed, even when I’m in hotels, that is the first task achieved – so I achieve every day.
During the day I aim to take 1 hour for free-thinking – this could be looking at a specific problem or gazing out of a window musing. The more thinking time I build in the more productive I am – building, creating not just doing.
The end of the day varies be it work dinners, reading, a movie but most importantly sleep – I am not an advocate of those proudly stating 16-hour days and 5hr sleeps – that doesn’t work for everyone and it doesn’t work for me. Getting enough rest is important to be able to create, if my team handed me something after a few hours’ sleep I won’t even look at it till they’ve gone away got some rest and then reviewed.
MULTIPLY delivers to a very high standard and I want to make sure the team are able to unleash their potential in all areas of their life – that means giving autonomy, accountability and insisting on suitable R&R.
What are your ambitions for your company?
For me it is about MULTIPLY being greater than me – my vision is to be able to grow MULTIPLY’s core consultancy capability on an international scale and building a global team of MULTIPLIERS. The consultancy is our core, but we also work on our technology development programmes and look to develop joint-venture and spin-out opportunities so the future of MULTIPLY is an umbrella over a portfolio of extraordinary companies that unleash potential.
How do you balance this with life outside of MULTIPLY?
It’s a constant process of re-adjustment. The very nature of scaling companies is that it is a roller coaster even from one hour to the next at times. The key is focusing on why I am doing what I am doing – the mission, being flexible and open to change and challenge, and, importantly, have a support network in place.
I’ve read a lot of CEO interviews in the papers and something often missed is reference to their support network, paid or otherwise, that sit behind these people. I have a personal trainer, coach, friends, family and a great team behind me. In addition to this I support myself by ensuring that I build in time to re-charge this could be going for a walk, exploring Europe for a weekend or just unplugging from all devices for 48 hours.